Iowa state representative changes party affiliation to Democratic, cites Trump and Republican Party direction

Iowa State Representative Andy McKean changed his party affiliation from Republican to Democratic on Tuesday.
McKean said President Trump and changes in the party as a whole prompted this change. “I feel, as a Republican, that I need to be able to support the standard bearer of our party…Unfortunately, that’s something I’m unable to do,” McKean said in a news conference. He added that “the [Republican] party has veered very sharply to the right.” The Des Moines Register stated McKean had been the longest-serving Republican in the state House.
House Minority Leader Todd Prichard (D) commented on McKean’s move: “We’re pleased to have Andy’s experience and ideas as part of our discussion when we go to caucus.”
House Speaker Linda Upmeyer (R) said, “This will not distract us from moving forward with the conservative agenda that Iowans have tasked us with…As a majority of 53 strong Republicans, we are committed to completing our work and wrapping up the session.”
As of April 2019, Ballotpedia tracked 122 state legislators who have switched parties since 1994. Seventy-one lawmakers changed from Democrat to Republican, and 19 lawmakers switched from Republican to Democrat.
McKean’s switch did not change the Republican majority in the state House; the partisan balance is now 53-47. In 2016, Republicans gained a Republican trifecta in the state, meaning they hold the governor’s office and have majorities in both chambers of the state legislature.

Arkansas governor signs bill prohibiting sanctuary policies

Last week Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) signed a bill to prohibit sanctuary policies in Arkansas.
Senate Bill (SB) 411 amends Arkansas Code Title 14, Chapter 1, Subchapter 1, to include a provision prohibiting municipalities from adopting sanctuary policies. It also established that municipalities determined to be in violation of the law would be ineligible to receive state funds or grants until the policy was repealed. SB 411 defined a sanctuary policy as “an order, ordinance, or law enforcement policy, whether formally enacted or informally adopted by custom or practice” that limits municipal officials from cooperating with federal agencies to verify immigration status or from complying with federal detainer requests.
The legislation is scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2020.
Hutchinson said he opposed sanctuary cities but did not “see any change in policy going forward that would be disruptive to our society.” Arkansas had no sanctuary cities as defined by the bill at the time of its passage.
Supporters of the bill said it was meant to prevent cities in Arkansas from adopting sanctuary policies. Sen. Gary Stubblefield (R) said, “This is more a proactive measure to ward off something, some city in Arkansas saying, ‘hey, we’re going to set ourselves up as a sanctuary city.'” Opponents said the bill would damage the relationship between local law enforcement and the immigrant community.
Arkansas is one of 22 Republican trifectas.

60 state legislative vacancies so far in 2019

Since January 2019, 60 state legislative vacancies have been created. Thirty-seven of those vacancies have been filled through appointments or special elections. In the 23 vacancies still left to be filled, three will be filled through appointments and 20 will be filled through special elections.
Before the vacancies were created, Democrats controlled 32 of the seats and Republicans controlled the other 28. In the 37 vacancies that have been filled so far, Democrats took 21 seats, Republicans took 15 seats, and an independent took one seat. So far in 2019, six state legislative seats have changed partisan control in special elections. Four seats flipped from Democrat to Republican, one seat flipped from Republican to Democrat, and one seat flipped from Republican to independent.
The process for filling vacancies varies among the states. Twenty-five states fill state legislative vacancies through special elections, 22 states fill vacancies through appointments, and three states fill vacancies through a hybrid system that uses both appointments and special elections. The most common reasons for a state legislative vacancy include officeholders resigning, dying, leaving for a new job, being elected or appointed to a different office, or receiving a legal conviction.
Ballotpedia completes a count of the partisan balance of state legislatures at the end of every month. March’s partisan count of the 7,383 state legislators shows 52 percent of all state legislators are Republicans and 47 percent are Democrats. Republicans held 3,861 of the 7,383 state legislative seats in the country—1,082 state Senate seats and 2,779 state House seats. Democrats held 3,462 of the 7,383 state legislative seats—877 state Senate seats and 2,585 state House seats. Independent or third-party legislators held 32 seats, and 28 seats were vacant.

Washington legislature approves Janus response bill

The Washington State Legislature sent legislation to the governor’s desk that would amend state labor union law.
On April 18, the Washington House of Representatives approved an amended version of HB1575, which the Washington State Senate adopted on April 12. This bill would declare that public employers and public-sector unions are not liable for claims involving agency fees paid to unions prior to Janus. It would repeal statutes requiring employees to join unions or pay dues as a condition of employment. It would also amend dues deduction authorization laws, allowing authorizations to be initiated via electronic, voice, or written communications. A written request to the union would be required to discontinue dues deductions.
The House voted 56-38, and the Senate voted 25-21. The votes in both chambers split largely along party lines, with most Democrats voting in favor of the bill and most Republicans voting against it. The bill now goes to Governor Jay Inslee (D).
Sen. Rebecca Saldana (D) said the following in support of the bill during floor debate: “It is a bill that aligns our current statutes with the Janus decision and clearly defines the relationship between the union and the employee.” The Washington State Labor Council (AFL-CIO) also supported the bill, making the following statement via its news service, The Stand: “The Washington State Senate on Friday approved landmark collective bargaining legislation that brings state laws into compliance with last year’s Janus decision by the U.S. Supreme Court and provides clarity and consistency for public employee union membership in Washington state.”
During floor debate, Sen. Curtis King (R) criticized the bill with respect to its position on Janus: “The Janus ruling was not an anti-union decision, it was a ruling about rights, it was a ruling about freedom. It said the individual can decide what they want to do. You cannot be forced to join a union to get a public job. It’s about freedom. That’s all it was about.” Maxford Nelsen, the Freedom Foundation’s director of labor policy, said the following in a press release: “Union-backed lawmakers in Olympia are establishing quite a track record of passing illegal and unconstitutional laws to benefit their political allies at the expense of public employees’ civil liberties.”
On June 27, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Janus v. AFSCME that public sector unions cannot require non-member employees to pay fees covering the costs of non-political union activities. This overturned precedent established in the 1977 case Abood v. Detroit Board of Education.

Nebraska voters will decide TIF constitutional amendment in 2020

On April 18, the Nebraska State Senate approved a constitutional amendment to increase the repayment period for tax-increment financing (TIF) from 15 years to 20 years for areas where more than one-half of properties are designed as extremely blighted. The vote in the Senate was 43-2. Voters will decide whether to adopt or reject the amendment at the general election in 2020.
TIF is designed to finance economic development in an area. In Nebraska, cities and villages have the power to declare an area as substandard, blighted, and in need of redevelopment and to create a TIF district. The local government can then issue bonds to finance improvements associated with a redevelopment project. The local government can use increased tax revenue, resulting from increased property values due to development, to pay off the bonds over a 15-year period.
The ballot measure would increase the period to pay off the bonds and indebtedness from 15 years to 20 years for TIF districts designed as extremely blighted. In Nebraska, an extremely blighted area is defined as a census tract with an average unemployment rate that is 200 percent or more of the average state unemployment rate and the poverty rate is more than 20 percent.
Sen. Justin T. Wayne (D-13) was the lead sponsor of the constitutional amendment in the state Senate. Sen. Wayne said, “If we add an extra five years, it makes the financing easier for a developer when he or she is weighing their risk.” He also said the amendment was written for “areas that would not otherwise be developed.” Sen. Mike Groene (R-42) was one of two Republicans to vote against the amendment. He referred to the law defining extremely blighted, saying, “This hasn’t even been enacted more than 6 months. We’re going from enacting a law that hasn’t happened, where any city has even defined a highly-blighted area, to putting it in the constitution! Government shouldn’t work that fast. It needs to slow down a little bit. Let’s see if it actually is used.”
The constitutional amendment is the second referred to the ballot in Nebraska for 2020. The other amendment would remove language from the Nebraska Constitution that allows the use of slavery and involuntary servitude as criminal punishments.

Former state GOP chairs split endorsements in Mississippi gubernatorial primary

Six former chairmen of the Mississippi Republican Party have endorsed a candidate ahead of the August 6 Republican gubernatorial primary. Two former chairmen support Lieutenant Gov. Tate Reeves, who media outlets call the front runner due to his fundraising advantage and 15 years in statewide office. Four past chairmen support former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr., who has criticized Reeves for opposing a gas tax increase and the expansion of Medicaid coverage.
Mississippi Today reported on the following statements from Waller’s endorsers:
• Billy Powell, the chairman from 1993 to 1996, said, “Waller has a much more even temperament to beat [Democratic Attorney General] Jim Hood in November. What bothers me about Tate is his arrogance. He doesn’t have the tendency to really want to work with people. It’s more of a ‘my way or highway’-type position. His arrogance really turns me off.”
• Clark Reed, the chairman from 1966 to 1976, said, “Our infrastructure is crumbling. It’s a crime where we are. We need a gas tax increase. Everybody knows it. I think Tate’s a conservative, but he doesn’t want to seem to pull the trigger at these critical times. He’s a good man, but gosh, you’ve got to have the courage to do the things that might be risky.”
In response to the endorsements, Reeves’ campaign said, “More than 300 conservative Mississippi leaders have endorsed Tate Reeves, including the governor. That didn’t get covered by Mississippi Today because it showed the party is united not divided. Hundreds more conservatives turned out for rallies and events across the state last week. The Republican Party is going to nominate the proven conservative in this race, and that’s Tate Reeves.”
Current Gov. Phil Bryant (R), who has endorsed Reeves, said, “I am fully behind Tate Reeves as our next governor. It is time for a new, younger generation of Republicans to take up the torch of conservatism. A young leader who doesn’t believe raising taxes and expanding Obamacare are good ideas. We will win this race.”
Freshman state Rep. Robert Foster is also running in the gubernatorial primary. If no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote on August 6, the top two finishers will compete in a runoff of August 27.
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Rancher gives $100,000 to support state legislative recall in Colorado

Weld County rancher Steve Wells has donated $100,000 through his company to the effort to recall Colorado state Rep. Rochelle Galindo (D). Prior to Wells’ donation, the recall committee had raised $2,542. The recall effort was approved for circulation on April 4 and the petition was submitted by Mary Achziger and Karen Kornins. Recall supporters have until June 3, 2019, to collect 5,696 signatures to force a recall election.
A separate, second recall effort against Galindo is also targeting state Sen. Jeff Bridges (D) and state Rep. Meg Froelich (D). These recalls were launched by Joe Neville. He is the head of the Values First Colorado political action committee and the brother of Senate Minority Leader Patrick Neville (R). The petitions have not been approved for circulation yet by the state.
Galindo is being targeted for recall because of her support for an oil and gas regulation bill and a gun bill. Both bills were signed by Gov. Jared Polis (D) in April 2019. The gun bill would temporarily remove guns from people who are deemed a threat to themselves or others. The oil and gas bill gives local governments more control over regulating the industry and also instructs the state to emphasize public safety over promoting oil and gas production. Other reasons given for the recall efforts include Galindo’s support of legislation related to the national popular vote and sex education.
The recalls have the support of newly elected state GOP chair and U.S. Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO). Galindo was elected to District 50 in the state House in 2018. She defeated Michael Thuener (R) in the general election with 54.4 percent of the vote. Prior to the 2018 election, Colorado Treasurer Dave Young (D) held the seat from 2011 to 2019.
After the recall petition was approved, Rep. Galindo said, “People are free to disagree with the decisions I make at the state capitol, and they’re free to vote for someone else in 2020. I will fight every day for our community and our shared best interests, and even for the people who disagree with me.”
Since 2011, 76 recall petitions have been filed against state lawmakers. Nine recalls were successful, nine were defeated at the ballot, 54 did not go to a vote, and four are still ongoing. California state Sen. Josh Newman (D) was recalled in 2018. Two Colorado state senators were successfully recalled in 2013.
Colorado became a Democratic trifecta in 2019 after Democrats flipped the state Senate in the 2018 elections. A state government trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and both state legislative chambers. Democrats control the state House by a 41-24 margin and the state Senate by a 19-16 margin. Gov. Jared Polis (D) was sworn into the governor’s office in 2019.

Special elections on Tuesday for South Carolina and Tennessee state legislatures

Two state legislative special elections are being held on April 23 in Tennessee State Senate District 22 and South Carolina House of Representatives District 14. Republican legislators previously held both seats. The results of both elections will not change partisan control of either chamber, which both feature Republican supermajorities.
The Tennessee special election was called after Mark Green (R) won election to Tennessee’s 7th Congressional District in November 2018. Rosalind Kurita (I) was appointed to fill the seat on January 14, 2019. Kurita is not running in the special election. Bill Powers defeated three other candidates in the Republican primary on March 7, and he faces Democrat Juanita Charles—who was unopposed in the Democratic primary—and independent candidates Doyle Clark and David Cutting.
The South Carolina House seat was vacated by Michael Pitts (R), who resigned on January 3 for health reasons. Garrett McDaniel defeated one other candidate in the Democratic primary on February 19, 2019. He faces Stewart Jones, who defeated three other candidates in the Republican primary.
As of April, 52 state legislative special elections have been scheduled or held in 20 states. Between 2011 and 2018, an average of 77 special elections took place each year. Both Tennessee and South Carolina have a Republican state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers.

North Carolina governor taps two for state court of appeals

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) appointed Reuben Young and Christopher Brook to fill two vacancies on the 15-member state Court of Appeals. Young and Brook are both registered with the Democratic Party.
The North Carolina Court of Appeals is the intermediate appellate court in North Carolina. The court has 15 judges who hear cases in panels of three. Judges are selected in partisan elections to serve eight-year terms. These elections were nonpartisan from 2004 until a law passed in 2016 made them partisan again, beginning in 2018.
Of the 15 judges, the breakdown of partisanship is as follows after the new appointments:
  • Appointed by Democratic governor: 5
  • Appointed by Republican governor: 2
  • Elected Democrats: 3
  • Elected Republicans: 5
Thus, the overall balance on the Court of Appeals following these appointments is 8-7 with eight judges having been either elected as Democrats or appointed by a Democratic governor.
The justices already on the court prior to Gov. Cooper’s appointments are:
  • Linda McGee – Initially appointed by Gov. Jim Hunt (D)
  • Wanda Bryant – Initially appointed by Gov. Mike Easley (D)
  • John Arrowood – Initially appointed by Gov. Roy Cooper (D)
  • Richard Dietz – Initially appointed by Gov. Pat McCrory (R)
  • Valerie Johnson Zachary – Initially appointed by Gov. Pat McCrory (R)
  • Donna Stroud – Elected (R)
  • Hunter Murphy – Elected (R)
  • John Marsh Tyson – Elected (R)
  • Chris Dillon – Elected (R)
  • Phil Berger, Jr. – Elected (R)
  • Lucy Inman – Elected (D)
  • Tony Hampson – Elected (D)
  • Allegra Collins – Elected (D)
Young and Brook must run for election in 2020 to remain on the bench. Bryant, McGee, and Dillon are also up for election in 2020.
Young was the chief deputy secretary for adult corrections and juvenile justice from 2017 to 2019. Before that, he was a special superior court judge for the North Carolina Superior Courts from 2012 to 2017. Gov. Bev Perdue (D) appointed him to that position on December 31, 2012. Young also worked for the state’s Department of Justice and for Gov. Mike Easley as chief legal counsel. He received his undergraduate degree from Howard University and his J.D. from the North Carolina Central University School of Law.
Brook was the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of North Carolina from 2012 to 2019. He worked as an attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice from 2008 to 2012. From 2005 to 2008, Brook was an attorney in private practice. He received his undergraduate degree and J.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. While in law school, Brook was a legal intern at the UNC Center for Civil Rights, director of the Carolina Law Pro Bono Program, and managing editor of the North Carolina Journal of International Law and Commercial Regulation.

Connecticut holds sixth state legislative special election in 2019

On Tuesday, Tammy Exum (D) defeated Robert Margolis (R) to win the vacant District 19 seat in the Connecticut House of Representatives. She won with 64.6% of the vote, according to the unofficial election night tally. No primary was held in the race – both Exum and Margolis were both nominated by their respective political party committees in early March.
This was Connecticut’s sixth special state legislative election held so far in 2019; three state Senate and two state House seats were up for special election on February 26. All five of those races were caused by Democratic officeholders resigning to take positions in Gov. Ned Lamont’s (D) administration. The state House’s District 19 seat was vacated by Derek Slap (D) after he won the Connecticut State Senate’s District 5 special election earlier this year.
All six of the state legislative seats up for special election so far previously had Democratic officeholders; Republicans won control of two of those seats on February 26. A seventh position, District 130 in the state House, is up for special election on May 7. It was vacated by Ezequiel Santiago (D), who died on March 15, 2019.
Following the special election, the Connecticut House of Representatives has 90 Democrats, 60 Republicans, and one vacancy. A majority in the chamber requires 76 seats. Connecticut has a Democratic trifecta. A state government trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and both state legislative chambers.
As of April, 52 state legislative special elections have been scheduled or held in 20 states. Between 2011 and 2018, an average of 77 special elections took place each year.